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Poetry Analysis for “Dulce et Decorum est”

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 891
  • Category: Poetry

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The Title of this poem is “Dulce Et Decorum Est” which translated from latin means “it is sweet and right”. From this it can be deduced that the rest of the poem will talk about something that is “sweet and right”, perhaps honor. Yet just by glancing at the second line it is evident that the connotations behind the title are likely sarcastic, as there is nothing “sweet and right” about “cursing through the sludge”. The entire poem reads like a scene out of a horror movie, in which the soldiers in it are systematically being taken down by the most brutal gas attack. Instead of depicting the soldiers as patriotic heroes dying for a god cause, the poem highlights their suffering. Most importantly it highlights the pathetic conditions in which they “live”; and the way they’re humanity is stripped away from them. The very first stanza sets up the scene, in which men in catatonic states “trudge on” whilst “cursing through the sludge” despite the horrible conditions they are suffering. They are all “lame”, “blind”, and “drunk with fatigues”; so much so that they are “deaf” to the alarm sounds that might save their lives. Here we see a shift in tone; where before it was a melancholy pathetic picture, now it becomes a frantic terrorizing moment of confused panic. There are yells of “Gas, Quick, Boys”, The short, sharp commands adding to the sense of urgency.

Meanwhile the “fumbling fitting of the clumsy helmets” adds a sense of frustrated hysteria to the tone of the poem. The tone shifts to one of horrifying detail of the one “boy” (not even a man) who does not get his mask on quickly enough and suffers the effects of the gas. The boy “floundering around like a man on fire”, with absolutely no way of ending his agony, “before my helpless sight” Once more the tone shifts, and this time the speaker makes it clear that these are images that haunt him in his sleep: “… I saw him drowning, in all my dreams”. Within a smothering “green haze” he watches as the boy lunges at him in feeble desperation “guttering, chocking, drowning”. The next shift in tone is abrupt, as the speaker addresses the reader exactly. This creates a picture in your head, of a war veteran who is telling you the story of his experience yet he keeps rambling as if he is reliving the haunting moment. Then the speaker abruptly realizes he is addressing someone else and refers once more to “you”.

“You too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him in”, which implies that his pain is so great it does not matter if he is “flung” onto the wagon, because the pain he is in cannot compare to any other pain. Finally comes the concluding theme where the speaker is pointedly addressing the audience, “if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood gurgling from his lungs”, if you could see the images “obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud” painted on “innocent tongues”, you would not do as you do now. You would not encourage young boys to risk their lives for this glory. You would not blindly recant the old saying “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”. If you knew the reality of war, you would not be so quick to encourage it. It is the innocence of those who participate in war that makes the message so powerful. This horrible death is not happening to some foreign enemy, nor is it the byproduct of some noble sacrifice. It is the literal corruption and destruction of an innocent who is the byproduct of a nation that celebrates war and honor. Thematically this is a critique of war that uses shockingly real images to show war’s true face. It says, ‘there is no honor in dying this way; there is no glory in war, only pointless carnage. DULCE ET DECORUM EST(1)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares(2) we turned our backs And towards our distant rest(3) began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots(4) Of tired, outstripped(5) Five-Nines(6) that dropped behind. Gas!(7) Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets(8) just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime(9) . . .

Dim, through the misty panes(10) and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering,(11) choking, drowning. If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud(12) Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, My friend, you would not tell with such high zest(13) To children ardent(14) for some desperate glory, The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.(15) Wilfred Owen

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